It is important to always advocate for your library. Because more often than not, libraries easily fall victim to budget cuts (at every level – including federal and state).
Advocacy is not just talking to legislators. It also includes things like advocating in your community or to any random stranger you bump into who says, “Tell me more about the library.”
There are common misconceptions that libraries are essentially museums for books, nobody uses libraries anymore, and everything libraries offer can instead be accessed online. These could not be further from the truth, but these misconceptions are often the reason libraries need to advocate. It is the responsibility of library advocates to dispel these inaccurate misconceptions and to educate folks on the continued importance of libraries.
Advocacy should be an ongoing process, so advocates need to be proactive. Advocates can be librarians (directors and staff), trustees (board members), Friends and Foundation members, library users, community leaders, and any other library stakeholders.
But where does one start? Advocacy can be intimidating for some. Thankfully, there are numerous free resources available online to help you.
Great places to start (in no particular order):
Statistics, numbers, and data:
Statistics and fun facts are a sensible method to prove the worth of libraries. Statistics can be very eye-opening for people who may not know enough about libraries. For example:
- In 2017, there were more people who visited North Dakota public libraries (2,162,559) than those who attended Minnesota Vikings games (1,099,905).
- In the United States, there are more public libraries than McDonald’s or Starbucks.
- Americans visit public, school, and academic libraries more than 3 times as frequently as they go to the movies.
Numbers can really drive the point home. However, don’t use too many figures. That may overwhelm folks. Consider doing something fun with the data, like an infographic. Infographics are brief and visual. You don’t have to be a graphic designer to create an infographic. You can easily create free infographics online by using the website Canva.
To view the data from past annual reports, you can view the usage maps (see link below) or you can contact the State Library to get a copy of the raw data in an Excel Spreadsheet.
The State Library creates a fun infographic every year based on the data that is submitted by North Dakota public libraries on their annual reports. The infographics are available as PDFs on the State Library’s website (see link below).
You can also retrieve data and fun facts from national resources, such as ALA and IMLS (see links below).
Value of libraries/ return on investment:
- Library Value Calculator (American Library Association) – How valuable is your library? Use this calculator to help determine your library’s return on investment.
- An Excel Spreadsheet version of this Library Value Calculator can be downloaded here (this version is easier to print and the data can be easily updated): library-value-calculator.xlsx
- Tip: Libraries can figure out how much it costs per household to fund them. For example, if Library XYZ receives $10,000 annually from the city and there are 500 households in town, it costs $1.67/month per household to support the library (or $20/year per household). Compare that with the cost of internet, phone, cable, electricity, water, or any other monthly billing item.
It is important to know who your local, state, and federal legislators are in case you need to reach out to them. Be on friendly terms and have a positive relationship with your elected officials, as you want them to support libraries.
Importance of libraries:
North Dakota resources:
Additional resources from the American Library Association (ALA):
Tips & Tricks
- Find a message (What are you advocating for? What is your reason for advocating?)
- Know the power of your voice in the library
- Focus your message (and make sure your advocacy team – trustees, patrons, Friends, etc. – are on the same page with the message)
- Make compromises
- Get your advocates in positions to help the library (commissions, boards, etc.)
- Build relationships in the community
- Make stories personal
- Find a connection with the people you are advocating to (What are they interested in?)
- Be in involved with committees that are not library related
- Be strategic with data, infographics, etc. (When using things like charts or graphs, label them with things like “library use continues to increase” instead of the generic “2019 library circulation stats”)
- Find your legislators’ webpage (What are they interested in? Use buzz words when talking with them to peak their interest.)
- Keep messages positive
- Ask library supporters to take their message/ stories to funding bodies
- Bookmobile advocacy: put bookmobiles in parades
- Don’t burn bridges
- Don’t tell people they’re wrong
- Don’t forget why you’re advocating
- Don’t take rejections personally
- Don’t make it all about money